The above reel shows some of the most beautiful shots ever made of the late, great Penn Station. It was apparently shot (according to the Internet Archive where it was found listed under ‘dailies’ for films–i.e. uncut footage) for a movie called ‘Young Widow’ starring Jane Russell, released in 1946. I assume it was used for rear-projection background to make Jane Russell look as if she’s walking through the station when, in fact, she’s on stage 10 of some studio lot three thousand miles away. I find it odd that the anonymous people milling around the station don’t stare suspiciously at the camera as they usually do. Could they be background extras? There’s an awful lot of them and the movie wasn’t a terribly expensive (or apparently a very good) cinematic venture so I don’t think that’s the case. Perhaps they concealed the camera within some sort of crate. Anyway, I hope you find this haunting, evocative footage as mesmerizing as I do–these documentary glimpses of the past via ‘accidental archiving’ (which is how I think of footage accumulated for reasons other than the ones that make it interesting to us now) really is the closest thing to a time machine we have. As the Youtuber who posted this video–the estimable ‘Speed Graphic’–writes:
Not much happens in this video–just people waiting for their train. But they’re interesting in and of themselves. Lots of men–and a few women–in uniform, as the country is still on full war footing. Everybody dresses well when they travel. Most of the older ones wear hats, but younger men and women sometimes go without. The other thing to see, of course, is Penn Station itself, one of New York City’s great lost landmarks. Its vast interior was one of the city’s great indoor spaces. Filled with natural light from the glass ceiling, that light then filtered down to the platform level through circular glass plugs in the floor. Just 18 years later, it would be demolished to make way for the new Madison Square Garden. Its loss would inspire the city’s 1965 landmarks preservation law.